When houses become homes

I love a good cull. Right now, laid in our hallway are five bin bags crammed with stuff to chuck, recycle or send to charity shops.

And I’ve only just begun.

Since Rich and I have been married we’ve lived in so many different houses that culling has just been part of life. We’ve lived in our current house for nearly five years, and it’s by far the longest we’ve lived in any one house. I’ve learnt to never say never… BUT we’ll probably never live in a house this big again. So with years of accumulated stuff and the likelihood of downsizing, this cull is going to be the cull of all culls.

As I’ve been culling I’ve also begun a process of reflecting on houses and homes. One thing I’ve learnt with houses is that’s all they are: houses. A home is a completely different thing. A home is a place where memories are made. Home is a place where you love and you are loved. A home is a place where you are free to be quiet or loud, to laugh or cry. It’s a safe environment to fail, and fail again, and then to keep trying. Home is a safe place to dance, without judgement, to MC Hammer in the kitchen. At least, in our home it is.

This particular home has had visitors from India, Burundi, Holland, America, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Australia, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, South Africa, Poland, Germany, and all over England. And I’m sure many other places I’ve forgotten! It’s been a family base, not just to our nuclear family but to our extended family. It’s a place where we’ve loved God together, grown together and has been a place where those without family are welcomed in.

As I start to declutter and sort through our things I realise that we don’t get so much attached to the buildings as we do to the memories we associate with those places. And this home has been a beautiful shell to house those memories. I love the wooden floors, and I love the colours on the landing as the early morning sun shines through the stained glass windows. I love the roaring open fires on cold winter days, and the large kitchen with views to the distant hills.

 

 

I feel blessed to have lived in a home of aesthetic beauty. But it’s our memories of home that we take with us; our memories of all that God has done in and through our family in our time here.

Early on in our marriage God taught us a valuable lesson about houses and homes. It was our second year of marriage, and we bought our second house. It had been lived in by one couple for 50 years, and needed some tender loving care. With the help of his dad, Rich spent the best part of a year gutting and restoring it. We loved that house.

Just shortly after we’d finished gutting it we took a trip to India; our first trip together since my year there in ’99. It was a surveying-the- land type trip where we were asking God if he wanted us to serve as missionaries over there.

I was desperately hoping we’d get the green light to “go”; hoping at last that God would have come round to my way of thinking. Strangely enough, He had different plans. We’d only been on our trip for a couple of days when I clearly heard him say “Why wait to be missionaries?” And in that moment I saw the city of Sheffield. It was a defining moment for me. And it turned out to be a defining moment for the culture we would create in our marriage and in our family.

Why wait to be missionaries?

Our response at that point was to move to a deprived area in Sheffield to live as incarnational missionaries. We made a pig’s ear of it in so many ways. And there were also lots of breakthroughs. But that’s a story for another time.  

But the move to the deprived area meant leaving behind that house we’d lovingly restored. Somehow, if we’d been moving to India, it might have felt easier to leave behind. But leaving that house to move across the other side of the city felt like one of the most costly decisions we ever made. I know that as we made that decision, something inside of us was nailed to the cross at that point too. We realised that houses were just houses, and homes could be created in any place we gave our hearts to.

A missionary life means accepting the call to ‘Go’. Sometimes it means we go somewhere more aesthetically beautiful, sometimes not. That’s not our decision to make. Our decision to make is whether or not we hear and obey the call to ‘Go’.

We’ve had the privilege of living in a beautiful house these last five years. But through that journey that God took us on all those years ago, I’ve learnt that there’s something much more important than a beautiful house. I love nice stuff. I love things to be aesthetically pleasing. I love to make a home feel creative and welcoming. And I will always try to do that, whatever type of home we have. I used to somehow feel ashamed of liking nice things but I’ve learnt that’s part of the way I’m made, and I think it’s a good thing.

But what I also know is that a home is so much more than beauty and aesthetics. It’s the memories we create in that home that are important: they are the things we take with us. And a beautiful house should never make us so comfortable that we can no longer hear, or no longer want to hear, the call of God to move us on to something or somewhere else, when the time is right.

When we moved to our current home I can remember thanking God for it, and saying “God, this is your home. We receive it as a blessing for this season. It’s yours to take whenever the time is right.” I knew that I needed to say that prayer out-loud at that point, because I never wanted to get  to the place where the house would trump the calling. I know how easy it is for that to happen, ever so subtly.

And now that time is approaching. The calling has come.

And as the culling increases, so will my memories and my thanksgivings for the time in this home.

It’s been a beautiful shell to house many, many precious memories.

The Void

Evening comes and three kids have been prayed for and kissed into the land of nod. The dishwasher is emptied and wet clothes hung out to dry. The kitchen floor has been swept. And swept again. And again. Emails have been sent, texts written, phone calls made. Dinner has been made and cleared away.

Rich and I face-time. He’s one side of the world and I’m another. He’s yawning as he starts his day and I’m yawning as I end mine.

And then comes The Space: that time at the end of the day when the husband is away and the kids are in bed and the to-do-list is ticked off.

The Space comes.

There’s no running away or hiding behind jobs that need to be done or kids that need to be fed.

No. None of that. In The Space my comfortable cloak of busyness is hung up. And it’s just me.

And sometimes it feels more like a void than a space. You see, space is roomy and full of hope and potential. But a void? A void is a little different: a void feels empty and barren. A void can feel desolate. It can feel like a never-ending, bottomless pit. It’s unknown.

Thoughts surface and fears begin to rise; those things that would normally be suppressed by the busyness of life. And in The Void I have to face those inner doubts and inner insecurities that can so easily be pushed down by my close friend Busyness, and by the reassurance of a loving husband and friends.

And so I realise that this void that comes when Rich is away is actually God’s grace to me. And when He offers grace to me I’d be foolish to turn it down, though it may seem easier to do so. His grace is to show me how to fill The Void: how to take captive the rumbling whispers in my heart; the lies that are spoken in the darkness.

His grace is to show me how to re-write that script with the words of truth that He gives me.

And so The Void is God’s hidden gift to me. It’s His reminder to me that I am His and He is mine.

The Void is the place where my deepest fears arise, where the storm comes, the wind and the waves howl around me. And The Void is the place where I am reminded that He merely has to say “Be Still” and the wind and the waves obey.

The Void is the place of exchange: the place where I enter feeling fearful and leave remembering who He is. It’s the place where I exchange fear for faith, doubt for certainty, despair for hope and defeat for victory.

It’s the place where I remember His faithfulness to me and to His people. It’s the place where I stand on the testimony of what He’s done in the past, and remember His promises for the future.

It’s the place where I remember that He is faithful.

The Void is the place where I lean in and look for the gain. It’s the place where I remember that my hope, my peace and my identity is not found in Rich, or anyone, or anything, else. Those people and things may be a channel of grace to me. But they are never the source.

A channel merely carries what comes from the source.

And so God’s hidden treasure to me when Rich is away is to gently remind me that it’s His voice that defines who I am.  He reminds me that He fills The Void and takes me into a spacious place filled with expectancy, hope and certainty.


 What’s God’s hidden treasure for you today?

on “guilt-free” creativity…

This weekend my creative soul emerged from hibernation. I tinkered with my camera and took some fun shots. I enjoyed scouring though photography blogs, surfing my way through pinterest and picking up ideas. And I spent some time thinking though a few creative projects for the home.

It was a lot of fun. 

 

I felt like a small part of me was restored, and re-awakened. Amidst busy schedules, small children, visitors in and out of the home, I’d got stuck on a treadmill of monotony. Engaging in creativity, or even just admiring creativity in others, brings me alive. And I’d forgotten that.

But even more significantly there was a missing emotion for me after wiling away my hours in creativity. Guilt.  Creativity often feels like a luxury, something that could always be replaced by a more important task or relationship.

Subconsciously I’ve always seen creativity as something that replaces something else, something more important. If I’m being creative,  then I’m not spending time with God. And that’s always more important.  Seeing this written in black & white, I see both the absurdity and intensity of the lie. And though I like to think I don’t separate into “secular” and “sacred”, I clearly do to some degree.

When I look back at that weekend of creativity, as I sat in the stillness, whilst kids played happily in their rooms, I was just enjoying my own thoughts and interjections from God as he spoke to me in and through what I was doing. A life lived with Jesus doesn’t need to be about kneeling by my bed in prayer. Which is a good job as you won’t often find me there.

No wonder I’ve never fully enjoyed being creative; there’s been too much guilt entangled in it all.  I’d removed “the essence of faith from the particulars of daily human life and relocated it in special times, places, and states of mind”*

Our God is a creative God. He creates. He is the Creator. He loves creation, and I think He loves it when I’m being creative. He is with me as much in the creative and the mundane moments as He is in a “prayer meeting”.

I guess the crux of it is this: Does my whole life give glory to God? I’ve been trying to approach each day much more from this perspective, choosing to see life as a whole rather than in two camps.

Let us practice the fine art of making every work a priestly ministration. Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there.

Tozer, The pursuit of God

 

 

 

* Dallas Willard,  The Spirit of the Disciplines

 

 

the life we can’t predict

As he sat quietly in a corner, reading a book, my mum shook her head in disbelief : “We’d never have predicted he’d be like this, would we?”

She was right, of course.

We could never have predicted.

That wild one, two, three, four, five, six, and even sometimes, seven-year old was a very different child to this eight-year old sat in the corner reading a book. He’s still an energetic, untamed, Bear-Grylls-kind-of-boy, but he’s also now a Jesus-loving, book-loving, considerate, and compassionate boy too.

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We could never have predicted.

When there were temper-tantrums, spitting, door-slamming, biting, hitting, shouting, I could never have predicted. I could never have predicted this boy sat before me now.

Oh, there are still challenges. Many. He’s a kid (just like our other kids).

But we could never have predicted.

Our kids aren’t meant to be put in boxes. A seemingly shy child can develop into a fully fledged extrovert. And likewise a wild, rambunctious boy can become a book-loving introvert.

And they could change again.

Our job isn’t to box our kids and then to keep them in that box.

Our job is to disciple our kids in how to follow Jesus – helping them to hear and receive the love and words of Jesus for themseves and to live that out in their own lives. And as we love, nurture and disciple them we call out of them the treasure that’s been placed within.  Like all of us, our kids are rough diamonds which, as they connect more and more with Jesus, are formed into greater and greater beauty. They need the steady hand and encouragement of a few who will continue to lead them towards Jesus and believe “beyond the predictions”.

Photo Credit: PH Weddings

My vicar from my teenage years would shake his head in disbelief if he could see my life now.

He could never have predicted.

But I’m here telling this story, as a follower, friend, disciple and lover of Jesus, because a few people chose to believe that I was a rough diamond rather than a lost cause. A handful of people chose to believe that the God of all redemption could bring about His redemptive work even in someone like me. And He did, and He still is.

And so I’m a great believer in rough diamonds. I’m a great believer in the seemingly “lost cause”, the ones “without hope”. I’m a great believer, because I’ve been one of those rough diamonds, and still am. And more importantly, because I’m a great believer in a God who redeems.

I’m a believer in a God who doesn’t just clean us up a bit. I’m a believer in a God who washes away the old and brings in the new. I’m a believer in a God who chips off the rough edges and refines each and every day – for His glory.  I’m a believer in potential, because my God is a believer in potential.

I’m a believer in a God whom I now call friend.

I could never have predicted…..